Tag Archives: challenge of forgiveness

Justice, Mercy, Forgiveness, Raymond Reddington and Me

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Friends of Padre Steve’s World,

In spite of being very busy working in the house and going  back to work to deal with the crisis d’jour I have been very reflective about all I have been through over the past couple of years. Unlike past times of reflection this has been a rather uplifting experience of grace and not a de-evolution into a morbid state of moroseness.

Two years ago I put in my papers for voluntary retirement from the Navy. The previous 28 months in my old billet as the Command Chaplain at Joint Expeditionary Base, Little Creek – Fort Story had convinced me that the pain of trying to care for and fight for unappreciative people, including people who tried to destroy my life and career was not worth the fight. But just days after I put it in and the retirement request was approved I suffered a fall down my stairs while dealing with bilateral knee, ankle, and right hip injuries while making home repairs. My request was to retire on 1 September 2019, but by April 2019 with failed surgeries, injection treatments, and physical therapy, I realized that more needed to be done and requested that my retirement date be shifted to my statutory retirement date of 1 April 2020. However, when I called the retirement branch at Naval Personnel Command, I was told that there had been a mistake and that my actual statuary date was 1 August 2020.

Since everyone was planning on my September retirement, and my relief was already in place, the new situation was unbearable to the command, and something had to be done. So they transferred me to an unoccupied billet in which they could hide me while sending me on temporary duty orders to Norfolk Naval Shipyard, which turned out to be my earthly salvation. When the Coronavirus 19 pandemic hit, the Navy asked a few officers in certain specialties to volunteer to remain on service past their retirement date, until December 31st 2002. I had come to love the people I served and had my faith and call as a Priest renewed.There was no pressure, all I had to do was make myself known, get out among our people and be transparent, caring for and respecting everyone, not just Christians. In the past couple of years I’ve experienced and learned more about forgiveness and forgiving wrongs committed against me, and recognizing actions committed by me that hurt others.

The fact is that I have a tremendous ability to dwell upon injustices committed against others, especially those done by powerful people who use their position to deliberately cause harm or death to people. This you will see a steady stream of articles addressing things like slavery, racism, the Holocaust, unjust wars, government actions that do deliberately harm to the most vulnerable members of society.

While do really love the concept of forgiveness, as a Christian I have no idea of how Jesus managed to forgive, even to the point of sacrificing his life to forgive the sins of the world.  Nor do I really understand how the great saints of every faith managed to live lives full of grace and forgiveness. It probably goes back to my Irish-Scottish DNA,  that can make one a hilarious hoot one minute and a brooding bore the next regardless of whether or not alcohol is involved.

But there is something that I have learned: forgiveness doesn’t require me to be dishonest about how I feel about something. I learned that from Raymond Reddington, and yes I have been binge-watching The Blacklist of late and I find Reddington’s grip on philosophy, religion, and the human condition to be quite fascinating. Reddington observed:

“Sins should be buried like the dead. Not that they may be forgotten but we may remember them and find our way forward nonetheless.”

Truthfully I don’t believe in the forgive and forget bullshit, it’s a nice thought, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I can forgive someone every day, but the memories will still be there. That’s what makes it so hard. As Reddington said to Donald Ressler:

“There is nothing that can take the pain away. But eventually, you will find a way to live with it. There will be nightmares. And every day when you wake up, it will be the first thing you think about. Until one day, it’s the second.”

That is why the Christian understanding of the forgiveness of sins is so important to me and so difficult. It certainly wasn’t meant to be easy or painless, but it might make a difference, as Reddington noted:

“A friend told me recently that forgiveness won’t change the past but could very well change their future. Apparently, everything is forgivable.” 

So that’s all for today. Yes I know there are many things going on that I can write about but right now I need to stay in this place for a moment.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Filed under anti-semitism, christian life, Coronavirus 19 Pandemic, faith, holocaust, mental health, Military, ministry, Pastoral Care, racism, Religion, remembering friends

New Year’s Resolutions and the Problem of Forgiveness

 

“New Year’s Day… now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”  Mark Twain

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions well.  Usually mine are not worth the time to make them. However this year I am resolving the make a couple of resolutions that actually are resolvable it real time which I actually stand a chance at keeping.  Well….at least I hope that I can keep most of them, one will be tougher than the others.

The first of these resolutions is to make sure that I am within my weight and body fat standards for the Navy. This is doable and if I don’t do it I could get put out of the Navy and never see the rank of Commander that I worked so hard to be selected. The big test of this is the middle of April and I will make sure this happens and once I meet the standards in April the goal is to keep them and get in even better shape the rest of the year.  Thus I resolve to lose the weight and body fat while keeping it off and getting in great shape. P-90X here I come.

The second resolution is to do everything that I can as a supervisory chaplain to set my co-laborers up for success and to care for the spiritual and human needs our hospital staff as well the Marines, Sailors and their families that come to our hospital for their medical care. I am blessed to have a great staff and a supportive administration so this should be a pretty resolvable resolution.

My third resolution is to continue to rebuild my spiritual life both in daily spiritual disciples and in relationships with God and all the people that God puts in my path.  The past few years have taken a lot out of me and the past year has been a year in which faith returned after living life as for all practical matters an agnostic after I returned from Iraq.

At the same time I still have issues that I struggle with. One of those is on forgiveness. However when people make nasty attacks on me I struggle to forgive. I am rather earthy and certainly cannot be mistaken for a real saint as I have far too many rough edges to think too much of myself in regard to “how good of Christian I am.”  I have to leave that to judgment God and others.  I remember my first confession when I asked the Priest hearing the confession “if they deserved it is it still a sin?” I was told that my actions were still sins even if they deserved it although there might be some mitigation.  I think that my response was “damn.”

A rather nasty attack on me occurred on a website run by people that have left the CEC that had posted my essay about leaving the CEC on their site.  The comment has since been removed as the site administrator.  When I contacted this person he was shocked that was on the site and removed it and apologized to me a number of times and provided me the text of the offending comment.  The weird thing is was that I would have never read the comment if a CEC Bishop had not asked me to go to the site to defend him when the attack was on me.

The comments made about me were typical of much of my experience in the denomination. The person who was quite obviously a CEC clergyman twisted my words and accused me being an apostate. He accused me of “posturing” and denying need for the work of Christ to forgive the sins of humankind especially in regard to homosexuals and Moslems.

In fact these are some of his words: “Fr. Steve now believes that it was unnecessary for Jesus to atone for our sins as even Muslims can obtain Heaven without the Cross. And hasn’t God repeatedly taught us throughout Scripture that homosexual sex is condemned as an abomination. Yet Fr Steve now believes God didn’t really say that at all and that gay sex is okay with God.” My crime is to believe that the grace of God can extend to anyone and the Blood of Christ is sufficient to save anyone.

To put my beliefs and words about this I quote from one of the keynote documents of the Second Vatican Council.  It is a long quote but obviously my critic is clueless and readers unfamiliar with my writings could take what he wrote at face value and agree with him thus I quote from The Dogmatic Constitution of the Church Lumen Gentium paragraph 16:

16. Finally, those who have not yet received the Gospel are related in various ways to the people of God.(18*) In the first place we must recall the people to whom the testament and the promises were given and from whom Christ was born according to the flesh.(125) On account of their fathers this people remains most dear to God, for God does not repent of the gifts He makes nor of the calls He issues.(126) But the plan of salvation also includes those who acknowledge the Creator. In the first place amongst these there are the Mohammedans, who, professing to hold the faith of Abraham, along with us adore the one and merciful God, who on the last day will judge mankind. Nor is God far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and all things,(127) and as Saviour wills that all men be saved.(128) Those also can attain to salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the Gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and moved by grace strive by their deeds to do His will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience.(19*) Nor does Divine Providence deny the helps necessary for salvation to those who, without blame on their part, have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God and with His grace strive to live a good life. Whatever good or truth is found amongst them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the Gospel.(20*) She knows that it is given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life. But often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become vain in their reasonings and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator.(129) Or some there are who, living and dying in this world without God, are exposed to final despair. Wherefore to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all of these, and mindful of the command of the Lord, “Preach the Gospel to every creature”, (130) the Church fosters the missions with care and attention.

I may be a moderate to liberal on some social issues and be more inclined to err of the side of the grace of God when it comes to people that many conservative Christians demean and damn to hell but I don’t deny the Creeds and my beliefs are those espoused in the documents of Vatican II and the Encyclicals of Pope John Paul II.  Personally I think that puts me in some pretty good company as far as my orthodoxy and Catholicity are concerned but there are some in the CEC that like to twist words and beliefs to demonize those that have left that church.  In fact when I was in the church I was attacked and even silenced for being “too Catholic.”  At the same time I was one of the most stalwart defenders of the CEC Church leadership despite how I had been treated by some Church leaders and not defended by others that should have defended me. I understand the pathological needs of those that make such spurious and cowardly attacks under the cloak of anonymity I have a terrible time forgiving them.  I don’t hide who I am or what I believe I expect that anyone that claims to be a Christian minister would have the decency to contact me personally rather than take the low road and do a drive by hit on me on another site. This process will be terribly hard and I will endeavor to forgive and get beyond it but I know my nature.  I am one of those old fashioned people that believe in honest and open dialogue and have a concept of personal honor.  This will require a lot of work and prayer and I will need your prayers to do this.

So there they are. As you can see some resolutions will take some work but I should be able to accomplish them. The last resolution regarding forgiveness will probably take a lot of struggle. Since I presume that the aforementioned coward and those like him will take other pot shots at me my wound will probably remain fresh as much as I want to leave it this part of my life behind.

I appreciate your prayers for me in the coming year. So many people have been so encouraging to me on this website in so many ways since I began the site in February of 2009.  I am so grateful for all of you and give thanks to God for all the love and care that so many readers have shown to me over the past two years.  I pray that you will know the love, peace and blessing of the Incarnate God in the coming year and covet your prayers that I will be able to do the same.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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Filed under christian life, faith, Pastoral Care, philosophy, Religion

Raw Edges: Are there other Chaplains out there Like Me?

Before a Convoy

The past week or so I have had to go back and revisit my Iraq experience. Part of this is due to work, we have had seminars on the spiritual and moral affects of trauma, the challenge of forgiveness and most recently discussing best spiritual care practices for those who suffer from PTSD or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI).  The training has been excellent but has kicked up a lot of stuff in me.  Added to this have been reports out of Afghanistan about more casualties in particular of a helicopter that crashed that killed 9 Americans, the Taliban claim credit for downing the aircraft but the circumstances are not fully known.

One of many helicopter flights, this a daylight flight in a Marine CH-46

The course last week on the spiritual and moral affect of trauma and the challenge of forgiveness brought up issues from Iraq but not upsetting.  In fact the seminar taught by Dr. Robert Grant author of The Way of the Wound was helpful to me in sorting out what I have been going through for the past couple of years.  The training this week is also good, good information but for me it is more unsettling because it deals with images, videos of convoys, burning vehicles and other things like that.  The convoy images coupled with the news of the helicopter crash actually had me pretty shaken as I spent a large amount of time in small convoys with small groups of Americans and Iraqis in pretty dangerous areas of Al Anbar Province stretching from Fallujah to the Syrian border as well as a couple of hundred hours in the air, usually at night in various Marine and Army helicopters as well as the MV-22 Osprey.  During those experiences we took fire a couple of times and had a few experiences on some of our flights that were a bit sporty.  So for a while I was lost in my own stuff but was able to pull out in not too long of time.

Convoy stopped near Al Qaim

Some of our discussions revolved around how trauma and war can impact a person’s image and relationship with God, whatever that may be.  The focus was on us as pastoral care givers caring for those in our charge.  Once again this really good information for me as I will be dealing with a lot of PTSD and TBI cases are Camp LeJeune.  But there was one thing that got me.  I came back from Iraq as most of my readers know in pretty bad shape dealing with PTSD and issues of abandonment feeling disconnected with the Navy and my church.  Part of that was what amounted to be a loss of faith so severe that I was for all practical purposes an agnostic for almost two years because I couldn’t make sense of anything to do with God, I felt God forsaken it was to use the image of St. John of the Cross, my Dark Night of the Soul.  I am doing better now and feel like my faith has returned to some degree, certainly not like it was before but while I have doubts I am okay with that part of the journey now.

Christmas Eve not far from Syria

I know a number of military Chaplains from the Navy and Army that have returned from Iraq or Afghanistan in some sort of faith crisis many suffering from PTSD or TBI.  I am actually wondering how many are out there.  I know that I am not alone, but I need to know if others are going through this experience too.  It was for me a desperate feeling to be the Chaplain, Priest, Pastor and spiritual care giver when I was struggling having no answers and only questions, when people asked me about God and I didn’t even know if God existed.  This is the unspoken cry of at least some and possibly quite a few Chaplains and other ministers who have experienced trauma and moral injury.  One thing my incoming CO at my old unit asked me was “where does the Chaplain go for help?”  At that point I said that I didn’t know.  The sad thing is that I know many chaplains and ministers that have a basic lack of trust in their fellow clergy and do not feel safe confiding in them because they feel that they will be judged, not listened to or blown off.

A different war with the Bedouin in the western desert of Iraq about 5 km from Syria.

When I was diagnosed with PTSD in the summer of 2008 I made it my goal to grow through this and hopefully as I go through this to be there for others. Part of my recovery came through sharing experiences, the good and the bad on this site.  Elmer the Shrink asked me back when I started this if I thought that it would be helpful to me in my recovery, but he also asked if I was okay in opening up about this topic.  Since I didn’t see many people writing about this from the perspective of being a “wounded healer” I told him that I thought that I had to do it.  The experience has been terribly painful but at the same time I think that it has been worth it because as a Priest and Chaplain I think now more than ever in my weakness I can be with people in their difficult times without trying to “fix” them.

Colonel David Abramowitz with me and RP2 Nelson Lebron after presenting me with the Defense Meritorious Service Medal and Nelson the Joint Service Commendation Medal for our service with our advisors and Iraqis in Al Anbar with the Iraq Assistance Group. After this we both dealt with abandonment and other issues on our return home.

So who is there for “damaged” Chaplains? Who takes care of us? I was lucky or maybe blessed. I had Dr Chris Rogan ask me if I was okay. I had Elmer the Shrink do a lot of the hard work with me. At Naval Medical Center Portsmouth I had a Command Chaplain that was wise enough to protect me while I went through the deepest and darkest valley of my life.   As I recovered he challenged much like a Baseball Manager would challenge a pitcher who had been very successful on other clubs coming off the disabled list to regain his self confidence and ability to get back on the mound with a winning attitude. Not every Chaplain gets what I got and I am blessed.  I still have work to do and I need to recognize my limits, much as a pitcher who has recovered from Tommy John surgery makes adjustments.

So this is my question:  Are there others other there like me?  Are there other Chaplains experiencing such feelings after Iraq or Afghanistan? I’d really like to know because I believe that in what might be termed “a fellowship of the forsaken” that we can rediscover faith, belief and hope again and in doing so be there for others.

If you want please let me know if this encourages you or feel free to comment. Prayer is still hard for me but I promise that if someone asks that I will pray and to the best of my ability be available for them as others were for me because I don’t want any Chaplain to experience the abandonment that I felt went I returned from Iraq having felt that it was the pinnacle of my military career. To those Chaplains I just want to say that you are not alone.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under faith, iraq,afghanistan, Military, Pastoral Care, philosophy, PTSD, Religion, Tour in Iraq, US Navy